‘Not French enough’ after 50 years? PM reignites national identity debate
A Norwegian-born French politician was berated this week for suggesting that the Bastille Day military march was outdated. Told to “go home” by a ruling party politician, the controversy has touched on a very raw nerve in France – national identity.
By daring to suggest that France’s annual military march should be replaced by a civilian parade on Thursday, Green presidential candidate Eva Joly (right) incurred the wrath of the tank-adoring rightwing. She was simply “not French enough to understand”, they snapped. After all, she had only lived in the country for… 50 years.
Among the bleated shrieks of indignation and hoots of patriotism, some of the most cringeworthy remarks came from France’s own politicians. Twitter-crazed MP Lionel Tardy set the tone on Thursday, when he swiftly concluded that it was time for Joly to “Get back to Norway”. The next day, Prime Minister François Fillon added his two cents. “I don’t think that this lady has a very longstanding culture concerning France’s traditions, values, its history,” he sighed.
It's either Norway or us
Sarkozy’s ruling UMP party, of which Fillon and Tardy are members, has just spent the past two years denying that its policies – and even the party itself – are xenophobic. This latest blunder is not going to help.
And yet it comes as no big surprise. The UMP’s recent “identity debate” was catastrophic, only leading them further towards the far-right. To make matters worse, a report leaked in June revealed proposals to directly target dual-citizen nationals, in order to make them more patriotic. The plans, which have since been hushed-down, would have seen people with dual nationality forced to give up their second passport. Dual citizenship was described as “a vector for potential conflicts of interests and allegiances”.
So, it’s no wonder Eva Joly was an easy target for the UMP. Someone who has two nationalities, standing for president? Bashing the country’s military show? Never!
Straight off the Viking ship
It didn’t take long for France’s rightwing Twittersphere to shake its head in disapproval. But the strongest argument came in response not to Joly's comments, but the “stupid” reactions from Fillon (right) and Tardy. Socialist primary candidate Martine Aubry quickly pledged her solidarity with Joly, chiding Fillon as “a prime minister who distinguishes French people by their origins”.
Another Socialist Party member, Manuel Valls – himself born in Barcelona – said that although he didn’t agree with Joly, “discrediting her because of her origins, as Fillon did, is not to be tolerated”.
Joly herself, made a witty comeback, telling Fillon that she had “not just stepped off the Viking ship”. As some Twitterers pointed out, Joly gained French citizenship in 1967, before Fillon – then 13 – had even left school.
So what was Joly up to, while all eyes proudly trailed the tanks rolling up and down the Champs-Elysees on Bastille Day? She was just down the road, attending a concert in support of anti-racism. That news went unreported. But as satirical weekly, Charlie Hebdo, pointed out, “Campaigning against racism – it’s not a truly old French tradition, is it?”